Our Elephant Village program is based in a rural and traditional Thai farming village. The houses are made of wood, roads made of dirt, with rice and sugar cane fields as far as the eye can see.
Since elephants are not longer used in the logging industry, the Mahouts (elephant guardians), often earn less than $5 per family per week and struggle to properly care for the elephants.
In order to help one such village, our partner organization has joined forces with its elders undertaking to support to the villagers and their elephants by supplying physical labor and finance if they commit not to tout their elephants to tourists.
Without the help of volunteers like you, the Mahouts are forced to take the elephants to beg on the streets which is very dangerous.
This is a 'hands on' program where volunteers will experience 'real' Thai community life; helping with cooking meals, farming the land, getting your hands dirty on small micro-development projects, and helping to teach the local children a few words of English.
Located 60kms north of Surin city lies a very rural and traditional Thai farming community. Houses made of wood, roads made of dirt, rice and sugar cane fields as far as the eye can see. This is one of the most beautiful and genuine areas of Thailand with a very friendly and welcoming lifestyle. Way, way back - we're talking over 300 years ago - the local communities sent out their strongest and bravest men in to the jungles that once surrounded this region to capture wild elephants. Weeks would go by but eventually the men would return with the animals. These elephants were then trained over a very long period of time and put to use helping to clear the jungles to make way for civilisation.
Up until the mid-1980's local elephants were still used for logging. Now however logging is an illegal process. This means that the elephants have literally been made redundant. Treated by their owners just like your ordinary household pets, these elephants can consume upwards of 300kgs of food daily and require constant health checks - this is extremely expensive for an ordinary farming family with an income of less than $5 per day.
In order to pay for an elephant's care, many of their owners (known as 'Mahouts') began to walk their elephants through the streets of the larger cities, selling photo opportunities to tourists. This is obviously dangerous for both the elephant and their Mahout. In order to help one such village, our partner organization has joined forces with its elders undertaking to support to the villagers and their elephants by supplying physical labour and finance if they commit not to tout their elephants to tourists.
This is where volunteers come in. This is a unique opportunity to live and work with the Mahouts, spending 5 days each week learning how to work with, feed and wash the elephants. (Given their size, the elephants while domesticated, are trained to be around humans). We are working to break the chains and build enclosures for these elephants so they eventually don't need to be chained. At the same time, the villagers enjoy spending time with volunteers from all around the world.
This is a 'hands on' program where volunteers will experience 'real' Thai community life. Along with your elephant work, volunteers will learn Thai cooking while helping to cook meals; assist with farming the land, and getting your hands dirty on small micro-development projects such as a sustainable fish farm which helps to provide families with extra income.
We would like to thank you in advance for the work that you are about to embark on. It is appreciated that you are giving so much with your contribution of time, energy and funds to get yourself to the program.
We have made this guide as specific to the program as possible so that you are aware of what you will be facing when volunteering. Please be aware that information in this guide may change at any time and we will do our best to include all changes as they happen. We encourage you to contact GVN if you would like anything clarified or have any further enquiries. Before sending enquiries please read this entire program guide thoroughly.
If you wish to travel further within Thailand this would be an opportune time to do so, however we would recommend that you look into purchasing your own guide for travel, as this guide will not provide you with enough detail to assist you further. Please note that while travel is encouraged, it is important that you talk with your supervisors before making any plans to take a break during your volunteer placement as this may not be possible (excluding weekends of course).
During placement volunteers may be living with a local host family (depending on your project - see the Accommodation section for full details).
Please note: it is not an option for volunteers to arrange their own accommodation whilst participating in the program (outside of breaks). Volunteers are expected to remain with their host family/assigned accommodation as these are arranged in close proximity to placements. In the event of host family issues which cannot be remedied, an alternative arrangement will be made by partner organization staff.
Volunteers are welcome to join a program with their partners, children, siblings and friends. To do so will require all persons formally joining the program. Those who wish to be located in the same placement will need to be flexible about which program they do. As placements vary from month to month it cannot be guaranteed you will be placed in the program of your choice if you want to be placed with another person in particular.
It is important that volunteers are enthuastic and flexible, motivated and willing to get stuck in and work. There are likely to be interruptions to your program no matter what time of year you are volunteering. During certain months there are festivals that will mean schools will close and some programs will have no local participants for you to work with. This is a great opportunity for you to interact with the local culture and volunteers are welcome to participate in local festivities.
Program in Detail
Volunteers can choose to work in one of the following projects - or perhaps you'd like to experience life in a couple of different regions - if so you can choose to work multiple projects. Whichever location you choose for your volunteering placement, you will immediately understand why Thailand is famed for its hospitality and is often referred to as the Land of Smiles. Arrival dates for all projects are the first and third Friday of the month (unless specified otherwise).
CHIANG RAI HILL TRIBES
Hill Tribes are mostly located in the northern jungles and mountains of Thailand. They hold a mystical and rather romantic image - isolated, living off the land, working together to create a harmonious community environment. The truth however is very different.
These communities struggle to live hand to mouth day to day. They are largely a mix of nationalities including Thai, Burmese, Laotian, Chinese and more. Although they may have come from one of these countries they have no official citizenship and therefore have no rights, little or no support from the government, little access to education, no land rights, and have a very hard time earning a living.
A typical hill tribe community consists of between 200 and 2,000 people of all ages from newborn to those who simply have no idea how old they are as birthdays are a long forgotten celebration. With very little or no support from authorities in the region, the villages depend on each other and voluntary agencies for even the smallest of luxuries.
Our partner organisation is extremely proud to be working alongside an existing Thai registered NGO that supports these communities. This support varies between assisting with teaching work and caring for village kids, to constructing community buildings, farming land, planting trees and generally helping to offer a better and easier existence to the thousands of people who call these tribes ‘family’.
Volunteers in the childcare project will be working alongside local staff within a childcare centre. In most cases, the centres are staffed by a local village volunteer who is untrained, over-worked with limited resources and ideas. The childcare centre is very basic, however it is very important to the community.
Given the struggle these families face every day, living hand-to-mouth, any support or childcare they can find for their young children (2-5 years) is a blessing. By having a childcare centre within a community, parents have an opportunity to leave their children somewhere safe enabling them to go out to work to earn as much money as possible to support their family.
In recognising the demands of looking after young children under the age of 5, the childcare centres limit the number of children to 13 per one member of staff. This means that the only children who have access to the childcare centre are the first 13 through the door.
By volunteering with us on this project you are allowing more children access to the centres, providing relief to the parents and the community. You will also be broadening the learning experiences of the children who attend, and sharing new ideas with the local volunteer staff, thus enhancing and developing the childcare program.
Whilst working alongside the local ‘staff’ volunteers are expected to bring your own ideas of fun, games, activities, structure and daily itineraries. (Don’t worry if you’re stuck for ideas as the team of experienced volunteer coordinators are always on hand to offer advice and assistance.)
Living in a hill tribe community is an amazing experience. The people are extremely friendly, welcoming and proud. They will take excellent care of you from the moment you arrive. Living in a hill tribe home-stay however isn’t without its challenges. These houses are basic but clean and are often within walking distance of the childcare facility.
Teaching in a hill tribe setting of northern Thailand is quite possibly one of the most rewarding placements a volunteer could join. The locations are simply stunning, the support and welcome you would receive is second to none. The people you will interact with is awe-inspiring and the work you undertake does make a difference and is genuinely appreciated.
Children from hill tribes have no official status as Thai citizens. This means they have no rights. They can’t find work once they leave school as a Thai employee requires an official I.D. card – impossible for a person of no citizenship to obtain.
However, with the assistance of our partner NGO in Chiang Rai an amazing agreement has taken place. Children who show a good understanding of the English language and who have a good knowledge of their culture and location, can work as ‘official’ tour guides to visiting tourists – but only in their immediate surroundings. This means that these children do have something that they can work for.
With the help of our volunteer English teachers, these children can find gainful employment, and in many cases, earn more than they ever would living off the land. To be able to speak English well, with good pronunciation, will almost certainly guarantee them an income from visiting tourists. A salary that will go a long way to supporting not only themselves but also their families and their tribe.
It’s not only English teaching however that our volunteers can do. If you have a particular skill that you feel could benefit these children in their daily life such as woodwork, basic computing skills, knitting and sewing, gardening or farming, then we would love to hear from you - the schools we support are always interested in hearing from individuals with a skill that could be put to good use.
These children have no real chance to ever gain a placement at college or university because in the eyes of the Thai government they don’t really exist. So by learning new life skills it’s genuinely possible that they could set themselves up with a business that could earn a far greater income for their families and communities.
- Building and Community Development
Volunteers in the Community Development project will work on any number of projects throughout the year, all organised with the cooperation of the tribe leaders and the local NGO we partner with. Volunteers are assisting by supplying much needed physical assistance and funding. You will get your hands dirty. You will get sweaty and smelly. You will have the most amazing experience and you will make a genuine and lasting difference.
The projects will change through the year due to a number of factors. For this reason volunteers are expected to be flexible, motivated and willing to get stuck in and help where needed. Whatever the project is we can guarantee that you’ll be involved from day one until your last drop of sweat!
Most of us know Koh Samui as the stunning tourist island situated in the Gulf of Thailand. A playground for holidaymakers; beautiful beaches, a myriad of seafood restaurants, buzzing nightlife and this is why we have fallen head-over-heels in love with this place. However, what a lot of people do not realise is that there is another side to the island, a side that needs help and assistance.
Most government-run schools in Thailand suffer greatly from underfunding. Thailand simply doesn’t have the available money required to keep education as its priority. Teaching materials are poor. Computers are few and far between, if any at all! Lesson plans and curriculum’s suffer immensely, but most importantly so do the students. That’s where you come in!
Note: This is a 6 week program which includes the first 4 weeks on the TEFL course, and then 2 weeks of volunteering at our teaching project. Please keep in mind that the accommodations costs for the duration of the TEFL course is not included. You will need to pay an additional 10,000B locally to cover these first four weeks.
Any Thai with an ability to speak even the most basic English stands a better chance of breaking free from their meager surroundings. In places like Koh Samui, tourism is the number one industry. To find a job in this industry, English is a prerequisite. With a basic English ability, prospects are improved considerably.
Volunteers in the Teaching project do not need teaching experience, just a good knowledge of the English language (although experience and qualifications will help you to feel comfortable more quickly). Volunteers are guided through the teaching process by our team of trained, English speaking staff who have several years of experience teaching English to Thai schoolchildren. Lesson plans, teaching materials, guidance and confidence will be there waiting for you when you arrive.
As with our teaching project on Koh Samui, the school development work here has been designed to help out schools that struggle to operate on a day to day basis. With little income to these government run schools it’s not only the education curriculum that suffers, the bricks and mortar suffer too. Maintenance of the buildings, classrooms, tables, chairs, canteen, bathrooms, playgrounds and buildings are often overlooked simply because there's not the money to go around. Classrooms don’t have enough tables or chairs for the students. Windows, doors and mosquito screens are missing, and playgrounds are a health and safety nightmare.
Communities and their schools can’t afford the additional funding to brighten up a school or improve the health, safety and sanitation. As a volunteer in the building project you will be making a donation of not just your time but also money to purchase the necessary materials to fix that window, replace that sink, improve the running water and more. Volunteers don't need building or labouring experience - our own project coordinators will be on hand each and every day to assist and plan. They will also ensure that work is completed safely and on time, improving health and safety and making the environment more conducive to learning and a school for the children and community can be proud of.
The specific projects volunteers undertake are dependant on various factors, including the requirements of the schools, the weather, safety and the budget.
Surin, often referred to as ‘The Elephant Province’ is located approximately 450kms northeast of Bangkok, on the border with Cambodia. The main industry in the region is rice farming however as Surin receives less than the average amount of rainfall the area suffers with a low income, meaning it’s the third poorest province in Thailand. As there is virtually no tourism in Surin the area has managed to keep it’s genuine Thai charm. The people here are amongst the friendliest you will meet in the country and it’s in Surin where the true Thai smile will be witnessed everywhere.
Surin is actually world famous for many things including the silk that is produced here by Royal appointment, the jasmine rice that is exported to the finest restaurants around the world and the elephants that are kept almost like pets! To uncover the ‘real’ Thailand, Surin is a must-visit location.
- Elephant Village Life
Located 60kms north of Surin city lies a very rural and traditional Thai farming community. Houses made of wood, roads made of dirt, rice and sugar cane fields as far as the eye can see. This is one of the most beautiful and genuine areas of Thailand with a very friendly and welcoming lifestyle. Way, way back – we’re talking over 300 years ago – the local communities sent out their strongest and bravest men in to the jungles that once surrounded this region to capture wild elephants. Weeks would go by but eventually the men would return with the animals. These elephants were then trained over a very long period of time and put to use helping to clear the jungles to make way for civilisation.
Up until the mid-1980’s local elephants were still used for logging. Now however logging is an illegal process. This means that the elephants have literally been made redundant. Treated by their owners just like your ordinary household pets, these elephants can consume upwards of 300kgs of food daily and require constant health checks – this is extremely expensive for an ordinary farming family with an income of less than $5 per day.
In order to pay for an elephant’s care, many of their owners (known as ‘Mahouts’) began to walk their elephants through the streets of the larger cities, selling photo opportunities to tourists. This is obviously dangerous for both the elephant and their Mahout. In order to help one such village, our partner organization has joined forces with its elders undertaking to support to the villagers and their elephants by supplying physical labour and finance if they commit not to tout their elephants to tourists.
This is where volunteers come in… this is a unique opportunity to live and work with the Mahouts, spending 5 days each week learning how to work with, train, feed and wash the elephants. (Given their size, the elephants while domesticated, are trained to be around humans.) This program is designed to ensure the elephants remain in a natural environment and receive the healthcare and regular healthy diet they need. At the same time, the villagers enjoy spending time with volunteers from all around the world.
This is a ‘hands on’ program where volunteers will experience ‘real’ Thai community life. Along with your elephant work, volunteers will learn Thai cooking while helping to cook meals; assist with farming the land, and getting your hands dirty on small micro-development projects such as a sustainable fish farm which helps to provide families with extra income.
- Elephant Village Teaching English
Having the ability to speak, read and understand even basic English offers the children from the Elephant Village more opportunities than they would have without this skill. In modern Thailand, particularly for an organization that works internationally or in the tourism industry, having some English training is a pre-requisite to work. In addition, many universities accept only those applicants with an understanding of English.
Volunteers will be placed in a rural government community school which has virtually no funding. Unfortunately English is taught with poor pronunciation from untrained teachers who have minimal teaching resources. English speaking volunteers are really needed to teach English with good pronunciation and modern teaching methods. In saying that, volunteer teachers in Thailand do not need teaching experience. Our main aim is to show the children that learning English is important for their future – and can be fun and easy to learn.
All teaching volunteers are accompanied each day by one of our partner’s experienced, English speaking local coordinator. They will assist you with lesson planning, classroom control and translating. For volunteers without experience in teaching, the coordinator will chat with you before your first day to help ease you in to it. Thai children are very respectful of their elders and foreigners.
In teaching English to the children, volunteers are sharing with them tools to escape a life of poverty - you really will be changing lives.
- Elephant Village Nursing
This program is best suited to nursing students but even senior nurses are welcome! The Elephant Village is a small rural community and we help to support the local clinic. This is a very different experience to any field experience at home as you will quickly realise that the staff are amazing and do as much as they can, but their resources are very limited. The help of volunteers and the financial contribution that your program fee supports, helps them to a huge degree.
The work it self will vary greatly from day to day. You will be helping to support the nurses and doctors with stocking and organising their materials and equipment all the while chatting and learning more about what it is like to run a clinic in such a rural environment. You will also be helping with triage and the head nurse loves helping student nurses and teaching techniques in an observational and sometimes handons environment.
There are also outreach programs where you could sometimes be taken on homevisits. This is a very important service for those that cannot come to the clinic on their own and it will really open your eyes to some of the struggles within the health of the community. At certain times of the year, you can assist with programs teaching the community about strategies to prevent the spread to Dengue Fever and other preventative diseases and infections.
There are a few things that we would ask our nurses to bring with them. We try to make sure that our hard working nurses look the part, so please bring scrubs with you to wear while working in the clinic. In the case that you don't have scrubs, you'll need to dress neatly and professionally with shoulders and knees covered at all times. If you wanted to bring some equipment or supplies with you, it is not necessary but very much appreciated.
Flexibility and open mindedness are extremely important as you are in a different culture where things are done differently than what you might be used to. If you are confused by anything that is being done, please feel free to ask the nurse on duty and your program coordinator, they would be happy to explain everything. The day to day activites will also change. If there are a lot of patients visiting, it will be very busy but somedays there might not be any. Offer to help whereever you are needed and you will always be able to find something that you can assist with!
The work hours will be from 8:15 to 11:30, with a break for lunch back at the house and then again from 14:00 to 16:00. You will be staying at a homestay with other volunteers and will have the opportunity to spend time with the elephants as well.
If you would like to receive any credits or any supporting documents, please be in touch with us at [email protected] and let us know what we can help you with!
Program Schedule and Orientation
Volunteers are required to arrive on the first or third Friday of the month. (When you applied, you will have selected which Friday you wish to arrive on.)
On your arrival in Bangkok you will be met at the airport by a member of the in-country team and taken to your overnight accommodation. The following morning, once you've had the chance to settle in and wash that jet-lag away, you’ll have a 'Welcome to Thailand' orientation including a guided tour of the bustling city and see some of Bangkok's landmarks.
During this orientation you will be provided with the transfer details for getting to your project location. (Please refer Transportation in the Practical section for further details.)
Volunteers receive a full project orientation once you've arrived at your specific location. There will also be a meeting of volunteers and project coordinators at the end of each day's work to get immediate feedback on the day's activities and to discuss the following day. These group meetings are important so everybody can be properly prepared for what’s coming next and at no point feel you have no idea of what is happening. A good volunteer knows what their ‘mission’ is for that day, why we are doing what we’re doing and how your efforts truly make the difference.
Volunteer work expectation
Volunteers are expected to work a minimum of 5-6 hours a day, Monday to Friday.
It is important that you are flexible and willing to adapt to situations as they arise. You cannot predict what each day may bring. We also ask that you are prepared to follow any rules set by us or our partners to ensure continuity of the program. New initiatives you may wish to set up at your project should be discussed with our partner organisation and your project supervisor before implementation to ensure that what you set up is appropriate for the project.
Finding your feet at your project
In any placement, getting to know the people you work with is crucial, just as it is important for them to get to know you. Your first point of contact should be with the local project supervisor and building a strong relationship will help you understand more about the project, its history and its direction. The supervisor lives with the project night and day and can see what is best for its future. Also developing relationships with the staff will help you organize and apply your skills. Come into the project with a positive attitude of humility, and respect for your peers, and please don't expect to change the world in a short period of time, change takes time.
Accommodation and Meals
Please refer below to your specific volunteer project to learn more about your accommodation and the meals which are included in the program package. With the range of locations, provisions vary from project to project.
In all cases, you will finish your volunteer placement on a Friday and you are free to move onto your own arrangements after you complete your tasks on the Friday, or accommodation is provided for you at your project until the Saturday if you'd like to rest before heading off.
Chiang Rai Hill Tribes
Childcare, Teaching, and Building and Community Development Projects
On your first night you will be accommodated in a comfortable guest house in Bangkok.
Breakfast and a welcome meal on the Saturday is included.
Hill Tribe Village: For 4 nights each week you will live in a homestay located in the heart of a hill tribe village. Volunteers should expect traditional sleeping arrangements – ie to sleep on a mattress on the floor of the house under a mosquito net. Nights are generally cool in this area of Thailand so a simple room fan is more than sufficient.
Whilst at the hill tribe, all of your meals are included and home cooked. This will give you the opportunity to learn some genuine Thai cooking skills and recipes.
Teaching: Depending on the need at the time, volunteers may be accommodated in a small basic bungalow at one of the schools. These have proper beds and some of the local teaching staff use the bungles as they live so far from the schools. Volunteers will be advised during orientation where they will be accommodated.
Chiang Rai City: When you are not at the village volunteers are accommodated at a nice centrally located Chiang Rai city hotel. When at the Chiang Rai hotel your breakfast is included. You can purchase your lunch and dinner locally from as little as just 30B.
Note: Volunteers who wish to travel to Chiang Mai on their weekends do so at their own expense. You will not be reimbursed for unused accommodation/breakfast in Chiang Rai.
Internet: Internet is scarce in the hill tribe locations. There is good 3G coverage if you purchase a Thai SIM card. There are many cheap and reliable internet cafe’s in Chiang Rai city.
Laundry: Washing laundry in the hill tribes will be mainly done in the local stream!
However, you may find that a local has access to a washing machine. Please be prepared to pay for this service, although you may not be asked too, it would be nice to leave a ‘tip’.
Teaching and Building
On your first night you will be accommodated in a comfortable guest house in Bangkok.
Breakfast and a welcome meal on the Saturday is included.
On the island volunteers are accommodated at one of our two lovely volunteer houses. Each house has western bathrooms with hot water. There is free WiFi at both houses, and washing facilities aren't too far away. Air-con is available at an additional weekly cost.
Both houses are located very close to all amenities you will need to settle in quickly and easily such as ATM’s, supermarkets, restaurants, bars, shops and more. In addition, they are each just a 10 minute walk from the front door to arguably the best beach on the island!
Lunch will be provided on your volunteer days (Mon-Fri) - outside of this, these projects are self-catering, ie meals are not included. The kitchens are fully fitted with everything you need to live comfortable, and there are many local restaurants selling Thai meals from as little as 35B (US$1).
For those doing TEFL: please note that the cost for accommodation is not included during the 4 week TEFL course. There will be an additional amount payable locally which is 10,000 Thai Baht. Please chat with our team if you have any questions about this. The accommodation for the two weeks of volunteering after this is included.
Elephant Village Life and Elephant Village Teaching programs
The first two nights you will be accommodated in a comfortable guest house in Bangkok.
Breakfast and a welcome meal on the Saturday is included.
Elephant Village: Volunteers are accommodated in a homestay at the village for 4 nights each week (Monday-Thursday). This village is one of a few in Thailand that is registered with the government as a homestay village. This means volunteers will live with a host family in a traditional village-style Thai house. Typically these houses are built of concrete on one level with several rooms. They are dark and cool inside and the majority of the living is done outside in a purpose-built shaded area.
Volunteers will share bedrooms, often up to 4 in a room. The bedding may be a bed but may also be a mattress on the floor. The bedroom will have a locking door and a couple of fans. Mosquito nets are provided for volunteers.
Bedding is basic and can be made of nylon, so to help with your own temperature control, we also suggest you bring a cotton bed sheet as that will keep you cool at night.
During your time in the village all of your meals are included. The meals are home-cooked by your host family but we urge our volunteers to help with both cooking and cleaning up. This is very often refused by your hosts but we kindly ask that you smile politely, and help anyway. Meal times will vary around the needs of the family at the time but are generally 7am for breakfast, midday for lunch and 6pm for dinner. There are a couple of small shops in the village selling drinks and snacks but if there is anything you particularly ‘must-have’ we strongly suggest that you purchase this in Surin before heading to village.
Medical and safety: This location is a traditional rural Thai farming village and therefore is very basic and surrounded by farm and barren land. In the event of any medical emergency, there are always vehicles available to transport a volunteer to the closest hospital approximately 20 minutes away. If taking any mediation during their placement, it is your responsibility to ensure you have enough for the duration of the stay in the village, with some spare in case any should become lost or damaged.
Internet and Phone coverage: Being 60 miles from the nearest big city there is now internet in the village. There is a small internet cafe in a village approximately 20 minutes away however this is always full of local children and the internet speed is slow. The mobile phone reception is surprisingly good so any volunteer with a smart phone may be able to use internet this way using the 3G network – a Thai SIM card should be purchased to help with this.
Surin: All volunteers will stay at the volunteer house when in Surin - ie when not at the Elephant Village (Friday eveing through to Monday morning).
The volunteer house is situated in a quiet small estate. The house has 4 bedrooms (can easily sleep 10), with 2 bathrooms. There is a large kitchen which is basic, but has everything you need to cook easy meals (this is a self-cater house, ie meals are not provided). There are several outdoor seating areas at the house, including a large upstairs balcony which is perfect for relaxing.
There will be WiFi and fans. Bedding is basic and can be made of nylon, so to help with your own temperature control, we recommend you bring a cotton bed sheet as that will keep you cool at night. You will also need to pack a towel as these are not provided. There is a laundry service opposite the house (cost approx 40B ($1.30) per kilo. (Washing clothes at the elephant village will need to be done by hand!)
There is a Big C supermarket about 3-5 minutes walk away, with banks and western food places within the same complex. The city centre is a 20 minute walk or 3 minute tuk tuk ride.